Amendment that could bring housing density to St. Pete neighborhoods advances, despite local dissent

The City’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission brings the recommendations to city council on March 2.

click to enlarge St. Pete's ZM-15 - NTM-1 Zoning Map Amendment means developers or owners in certain areas like Crescent Heights could expand one housing unit into four. - Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
Photo via cityofstpete/Flickr
St. Pete's ZM-15NTM-1 Zoning Map Amendment means developers or owners in certain areas like Crescent Heights could expand one housing unit into four.
A rezoning amendment increasing residential density in St. Pete is moving forward. This week St. Petersburg’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission (CPPC) approved its recommendations to the city council which meets again March 2. The amendment means developers or owners in certain areas could expand one housing unit into four. If approved by city council, the rezoning of 2,897 parcels across the city is possible.

The CPPC meeting lasted three-and-a-half hours, with over half that time being public comment in opposition. Stephanie Pitts, past neighborhood president of Crescent Heights and a resident for over 30 years, says the plan is a further encroachment.

“As a neighborhood, we have tried so many different options over the years to keep our neighborhoods intact,” Pitts told commissioners. “Somewhere, somehow, you guys need to understand that we need to preserve our neighborhoods.”

Derek Kilborn, manager of St. Petersburg's Urban Planning and Historic Preservation Division, presented to CPPC in favor of the changes. He said the rezoning project began in 2017 as a way to provide housing diversity for those referred to as the “missing middle,” a concept that’s somewhat prevalent in neighborhoods like Hyde Park in South Tampa.
“Missing middle refers to the gap that exists between single-family houses and large-scale multifamily complexes,” Kilborn explained.

For a city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, density is key. But CPPC Commissioner Manitia Moultrie, vice president of engineering and consulting firm Golder Associates, asked about any stormwater studies.

“Did your stormwater engineering group evaluate that increase to see what the overall impact would be? Did you do that to all the properties proposed?” Moultrie asked.

“I don't recall a specific study or analysis that was performed by the engineering or public works department,” Kilborn said.

Kilborn noted none of the current properties are in the city’s coastal high-hazard area. The areas are currently zoned as NT-1 and NT-2 (neighborhood traditional), with restrictions on how many accessory dwelling units or ADUs like garage apartments are allowed.

Under the city’s plan, those areas would become NTM-1 (neighborhood traditional mixed residential) meaning single-family homes could be developed into four residential unit apartments, townhomes, or condos. According to Kilborn,169 parcels are in a national register district, and another 70 are in local historic districts.

“The fact that we are a national historic district, which promotes the preservation of our historical character, is in direct conflict with the request to build larger structures with upzoning,” Alexis Baum, president of the Historic Kenwood Neighborhood Association, said.

Baum asked the CPPC to make an exception to the rezoning plan for national register districts like historic Kenwood. Kilborn says that there are similar parcels in Uptown Round Lake, North Shore, and Roser Park. A motion to recommend those exemptions to the city council passed unanimously.
It remains to be seen whether short-term rentals like Airbnb are allowed under the proposed changes—something ADU advocates have dealt with in Tampa. A second motion passed recommending that rezoning only occurs on future major roads with at least four lanes to curb the influx of traffic.

Some residents say they were never notified of the proposed changes. Resident Deborah Martohue is a land use attorney, landscape architect, and certified planner. She says she never got notice and lives just 15-feet away from affected properties.

“I can assure you that every development that I've represented in 30 years would have never gotten away with not notifying people across the alley with this type of rezoning going on,” Martohue said.

Kilborn says all necessary notifications were delivered and documented by the city. Martohue gathered her neighbors recently to speak with city council member Lisset Hanewicz about the project.

“She said it’s basically a done deal,” Martohue said. “I know there’s nothing any of us can do, but I’m still gonna complain.”

The CPPC’s acting chair Lisa Wannemacher, founder and architect behind local firm Wannemacher Jensen Architects, says she supports the plan and would like to expand the rezoning.

“Density is not a bad word, and it can be done well,” Wannemacher said Tuesday. “If I’m honest, I would like to see it affect more parcels.”

Commissioner Todd Pressman said the issue boils down to density for the “missing middle.”

“Where are we gonna put density? Direction of staff is to increase housing diversity,” Pressman said. “What we’ve heard today is the haves versus the have nots.”

Local homeowner Judith Turner says this isn’t the right solution to the housing crisis.

“We don’t have a housing shortage...zoning will not create affordable housing, rent won’t drop just because there’s more,” Turner said.

Commissioner Moultrie was the lone no vote.

“We’re not targeting areas we’ve already upzoned,” Moultrie said. “I’m concerned with what this looks like with developers coming in. I understand the need but we could come up with a better solution.”

St. Pete City Council meets two more times on the proposed changes, with public comment. The first meeting is scheduled for March 2.
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